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Thursday, 4 July 2013



The Suzuki SX4 is now a full-size Nissan Qashqai rival, but is it any good?

The presentation for the new Suzuki SX4 S-Cross had the usual rogues’ gallery of impossibly glamorous families, wake-boarding bankers and improbably active pensioners. Marketing executives’ fanciful inventions often ignore the grim realities of modern motoring; endless jams, draggy school runs, predatory parking enforcement, weekend journeys to ungrateful relatives and third-world road surfaces.

Mercifully absent for the most part, however, was that peculiar but indefinable quality, deemed essential for all modern jalopies, of ‘schportiness’.
Not once did Yasushi Sasaki, the car’s chief engineer mention “Sport”. Yet with 17-inch, low-profile tyres, surely Suzuki’s new 4x4 urban warrior would have all the ride compliance of a crate of lager dropped off the back of a pickup?
I climbed gingerly behind the wheel, noting the slight settling of the suspension and the soft embrace of the upholstery – all good so far. This is actually the second-generation SX4; we drove the first one eight years ago in Japan.

The SX4 is (and will continue to be) built by Suzuki at its Magyar factory in Hungary. The first generation was produced in collaboration with Fiat, which at the time was desperate for a medium-sized SUV to bolster its range – these days it sells a bespoke 4x4 versions of its Panda, while a new SUV based on the 500L is due next year.

So Suzuki has gone on its own with its new SX4, which is 6.4 inches longer, but 132lbs lighter than the outgoing model; under the skin it is largely the same design, with its MacPherson- strut front, torsion-beam rear suspension.

The old model was styled with the help of Italy’s Giugiaro, the new one is Suzuki’s own. With huge headlamps and gentle curves, it’s Euro bland and barely memorable apart from the poke-in-the-eye Crystal Lime paint job.
The shape is distinctly reminiscent of the Nissan Qashqai’s, a market leader, cited as a big rival for the SX4 and due to be replaced with an all-new model soon. Suzuki had planned to call the original model the Aerio until it discovered it was Grecian for breaking wind. The SX4 monika is uncontroversial at least and this mark II model gets an S-Cross badge as a nod to the (more daring) concept car of the same name.

The range comprises four trim levels with two engines (Suzuki’s own 1.6-litre petrol and a 1.6-litre turbodiesel from Fiat), three transmissions (diesel six-speed, and a choice of five-speed manual, or continuously variable transmission for petrol models) and front or four-wheel drive.

This being effectively the first Suzuki with which the company can attack the fleet market, it has come up with a penultimate trim level, SZT, for corporate customers, which includes 17in wheels, silver roof rails, skid plates, sat nav, dual-zone air con, DAB radio and keyless entry and starting.

The top-spec SZ5 gets improved lighting with LED lamps and high-intensity-discharge headlamps, leather upholstery and a twin-pane panoramic sunroof, the largest in the class. Prices run from about £15,000 to £23,000, with a typical two-wheel-drive, petrol, SZT-trim model costing about £17,700, to which you can add another £1,000 for four-wheel drive and £1,500 for a diesel engine.

The four-wheel-drive transmission is similar to the old models’, with an electronically controlled clutch pack, which takes drive to the rear wheels under orders from a four-position switch beside the handbrake.

In the ‘Auto’ setting, it’s front-wheel drive unless slip is detected, whereupon the rear wheels are clutched in. ‘Sport’ takes cues from the amount of steering lock, the speed of throttle depression, as well as the wheel speed. When it determines the car is being driven in a spirited manner it will gently engage the clutches to divert 20 per cent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels.

‘Snow’ switches to a default setting of four-wheel drive, diverting different amounts of torque to the rear according to steering and accelerator inputs, while ‘Lock’ simply splits the torque equally between front and rear.
The cabin in the last model wasn’t the last word in design – lacklustre is another way of describing it. The new SX4 is a distinct improvement. For a start the seats are much more comfortable and supportive and there’s more room. Suzuki says there’s 1½inches more knee room for the rear-seat passengers and, at 430 litres, the boot is almost twice the size of the old model’s.

There’s more headroom, too, and the result is a proper five seater, with room in back for at least two six-foot adults, three at a stretch. The dashboard is more attractive, with concise instruments and a central colour screen for the sat nav.

It’s still far from the last word in style, however: the facia consists of wodges of grey plastic and the typefaces on the displays look catapulted in from the Seventies. It’s well built, but it’s well built out of cheap stuff. On the plus side, the twin sunroof is a complete delight, especially if you are in the rear seats.
We drove a four-wheel-drive diesel model. The engine is growly and sulky below 2,000rpm, turbine-like and powerful above that. There’s not much point in revving it to the 5,500rpm red line, but when short-shifted this is a highly useable power plant. The performance figures are modest, but with the slick, six-speed gearbox and a bit of judgement, it’s possible to make good progress.

The extra weight of the diesel improves the heft and bite of the electronically assisted steering and the turn-in to corners is more positive than that of the petrol version's. Dialling in the ‘Sport’ setting on the four-wheel drive also reduces the nose-on understeering tendency.

You’d never call this a sporting drive, but it’s very well damped and there’s quite a clever combination of initial softness and well-controlled body roll. It never floats over bumps, but occasionally bounds over long waves, though you always feel in control. The ride is quiet, which hides a multitude of sins including a tendency to clatter over surface changes.

Go into a corner too hard and the safety systems work quickly without further upsetting the chassis. The steering needs more work, however, especially the on-centre response and feedback, where the SX4 feels inert and divorced from the road surface.

The two-wheel-drive version is slightly more responsive, but not much so. On dry and grippy Italian roads there was little opportunity to sample the traction, but it seemed quite acceptable given the limited torque on offer. While the ground clearance is high, there’s no transfer box, so this isn’t a vehicle for exploration unless someone’s already built a road there.

Nevertheless the SX4 offers a pleasing sense of all-weather capability, comfort and fine build quality at reasonable prices. If you were thinking of a Nissan Qashqai, you ought to at least take a look the SX4.
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross
Suzuki SX4 S-Cross five-door Compact SUV hatchback with 1,598cc turbodiesel four-cylinder with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Six-speed manual transmission driving all four wheels via an electronically controlled wet clutch pack.
Price/on sale
From £15,000 to £23,000. SZ-T version with 17in alloys, roof rails, dual auto air con, DAB radio, Sat nav, £17,700 in petrol 2WD, diesel costs an extra £1,500 and 4WD an extra £1,000. On sale from July 10 for delivery in September.
118bhp @ 3,750rpm, 236 lb ft @ 1,750rpm.
Top speed
109 mph
0-62mph 13sec
Fuel economy
70.6mpg/61.4mpg EU Urban/Combined. On test 48.5mpg.
CO2 emissions
VED band
Band C £30 for the first year, £30 thereafter
Surprisingly likeable, if dull-looking compact SUV. Comfy and roomy cabin, but not the last word in design. Good diesel engine and six-speed transmission, but petrol lacks punch.
Telegraph rating
Four out of five stars.
Nissan Qashqai from £16,895
Surprise C-segment hit for the Japanese car maker that has spawned a multitude of new “crossover” model. Good (Renault) diesel engines and well built, but cramped in the back.
Peugeot 3008 from £17,400
Beaky French crossover that hides surprising agility under an ugly exterior. Questionable ride quality at low speed, but good diesels, a useful scrabble control electronics in place of a 4x4 system, and a quality interior.
Hyundai ix35 from £17,555

Slightly bigger and more expensive than the Suzuki, but a popular South Korean crossover SUV. Well made, but noisy, with a harsh ride quality and no longer a cheap and cheerful option.

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